Tom Blake
Tom Blake
May 20, 2018 · Unlisted

Have you ever wondered why Clickbait exists?

Obviously, at it’s core, Clickbaiting is just a marketing tactic that is used to increase the chance a user clicks on an advertisement to flow through to a landing page that is stuffed with advertisements.

That part is pretty simple.

But why does Clickbait continue to exist?

Why is it that, despite changes to Google/search engine algorithms and an increasing pressure to enhance the security of user data on social networks, the internet still has to endure the digital representation of a cockroach?

Well, as someone who has worked for the past 2-ish years in digital arbitrage, I’ll try to share my thoughts.

Why ClickBait Occurs — From the Selling Point of View:

To understand the nuanced nature of clickbaiting, you need to understand the term arbitrage.

In economics/investing, arbitrage refers to: “the simultaneous buying and selling of securities, currency, or commodities in different markets or in derivative forms in order to take advantage of differing prices for the same asset.”

In digital marketing, it basically means:

  • Buying cheap traffic.
  • Sending that cheap traffic to a webpage with high-paying advertisers.
  • Profiting from the differences in ad-spend versus ad-revenue.

Like I said, straightforward.

Here’s an example.

I search for the term “diabetes information” on Yahoo Search: purchases advertising on the search term, and probably pays $0.20-$0.30 if someone clicks on the ad block.

If you do click, you’re redirected to this landing page:

You’ll notice there are some legitimate prescription websites and information hubs on diabetes.

If someone clicks one of these ads, can realistically earn a few dollars.

That might not sound like much, but seeing as they only paid $0.20 for the click in the first place, getting $5 for a click is a stupidly high return on investment.

Similarly, you can click on a clickbait Facebook ad for a cost of $0.20, and be redirected to a landing page where the advertiser makes $.30 from display advertising and other offers.

And so, clickbaiting from a financial standpoint makes a whole lot of sense.

We can ultimately purchase your time/search intent and leverage it to make a profit.

So, What Does this Mean for Internet Users?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this question, and I’m still uncertain seeing as I spend 8 hours a day creating clickbait.

But here’s what I can say.

When most people go to a car dealership with purchase intent, they know they are talking to a salesperson.

They also realize the salesperson is most likely going to up-sell, act out of self-interest, and ultimately do whatever it takes to get a payout at the end of the day.

And so, people generally possess a healthy degree of skepticism when they listen to Doug the Salesman talk about why you absolutely need rust-proofing and some fancy floor mats.

However, when we browse the internet, we let our guards down.

Now, this isn’t some post that preaches covering your laptop camera and microphone with tape. Frankly, the little FBI man inside my computer can watch me browse through memes all day long for all I care.

However, I wanted to write this post to highlight a few key points about you and your internet browsing profile:

  • You are dirt cheap. Your click (or misclick) can be purchased for pennies.
  • Your data is easily accessible, and free for advertisers to use. Sure, Facebook and Google have changed some data collection policies, but an advertiser probably knows more about you than people in your neighborhood…Ever see diamond ring/necklace ads a few weeks before your anniversary? Yeah…
  • It is incredibly hard to avoid clickbait or targeted advertising. You can use DuckDuckGo, clear your cookies, search in incognito mode, and not use social media. However, it’s still incredibly hard not to have your data collected.
  • Digital arbitrage is more than a flashy headline, it’s also targeted advertising. ‘You’ll never guess how clickbait titles have evolved! What they do next, might shock you!”

So, what can you do when browsing the web?

Well, ultimately, you will encountered targeted advertising.

However, I hope that realizing your internet usage is a commodity that is actively being bought and sold might make you approach things differently.

Next time you see an advertisement for a product or service that strikes eerily close to ongoing events in your life, or you stumble across some web page that’s filled with a myriad of targeted ad blocks, take time to realize what is happening.

I firmly believe that, contrary to events like the GDPR or aftermath of the Facebook scandal that assert privacy laws are improving and that organizations are taking actions to protect user data, advertising and technology in general will only continue to become more intrusive (either overtly or in covert forms).

We are in an age where we are capable of understanding more information about people, their behavior, and how this influences purchasing decisions than ever before, and this trend will continue.

Consider the implications of something like DNA testing/screening, and what advertisers might be able to do in the future with information regarding consumer prevalence to diseases or various conditions. It’s truly frightening, or at least worth some thought.

As I said, you will encounter targeted, digital advertising.

However, if you can take one thing away from this article, remember this:

There is no reason for advertisers not to leverage personal information, or to find ways to skirt privacy laws whenever possible. Additionally, your internet browsing time and attention is a commodity, and a valuable one at that.

Thanks for reading!

To check out more of my writing, you can visit my blog


Tom Blake

Written by

Tom Blake

Blogger at I cover how to make money online, writing, & entrepreneurship. Currently based in Toronto but going nomadic!

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